Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made many foolish decisions in past negotiations with the United States and Israel. Yet his decision to honor disgraced former reporter Helen Thomas really takes the cake.
On April 1, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) General Mission to the United States gave Ms. Thomas an award for her “long career in the field of journalism, during which she defended the Palestinian position every step of the way.” According to Haaretz, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi came to Washington and presented the medal, “bestowing upon her the honor said to have come from Abbas himself.”
Ms. Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent, is indeed a fierce supporter of a Palestinian state. But when you consider her notorious anti-Israel bias - and her anti-Semitic rant a couple of years ago - Mr. Abbas should be ashamed of himself for giving her this recognition.
For 57 years, Ms. Thomas was a United Press International (UPI) reporter. She was a well-known member of the White House press corps, impossible to miss (although many tried) sitting in her very own front-row-center seat and traditionally asking the first question at White House news conferences. Early on, the “first lady of the press” was a respectable individual. She asked tough questions of U.S. presidents and other world figures, such as Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and started the tradition of ending each news conference with, “Thank you, Mr. President.”
Somewhere along the line, she snapped. After Ms. Thomas‘ departure from UPI in May 2000, she started a column with Hearst newspapers. She let down her guard and revealed her true views on domestic and international politics in her poorly written and barely read columns.
In a 2002 speech at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ms. Thomas said, “I censored myself for 50 years when I was a reporter. Now I wake up and ask myself, ‘Who do I hate today?’ “Suffice to say, we quickly found out the answer: Israel and its allies.
For more than a decade, Ms. Thomas blasted Israel for military action against Lebanon and relations with the Palestinians. She despised President George W. Bush and his senior officials for their support of Israel and strong defense of the war in Iraq. Many pundits on the right and left became increasingly disgusted with her venomous comments about the Jewish state and snide remarks about the brave men and women serving their country overseas.
The final straw occurred on May 27, 2010. David Nesenoff, a New York-based rabbi and blogger who was in Washington to celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month, happened to come across Ms. Thomas. He asked her for a comment about Israel, and Ms. Thomas stunningly replied, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” He then went on to ask her where they should go, and she said, “They can go home - Poland, Germany. And America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?” Mr. Nesenoff posted a one-minute excerpt of this interview on his website, RabbiLive.com, on June 3. It went viral, and Ms. Thomas apologized the next day on her website. It was too late; she was widely condemned for her comments, including by President Obama, and she resigned from Hearst shortly thereafter.
If you listened very closely, cries of “Ding dong, the witch is dead!” rang throughout the nation’s capital.
All kidding aside, it’s clear that her apology wasn’t genuine. During a December 2010 speech at the Images and Perceptions of Arab Americans conference, she said, “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by Zionists. No question, in my opinion.” Tolerance, thy name isn’t Helen Thomas.
I’m a strong defender of free speech. If Ms. Thomas wants to condemn Israel and the Jewish community at every turn, that’s her call. You can’t force a person to like another person, a place or thing. In a free and democratic society, she’s entitled to her repulsive views.
Yet it puzzles me why anyone would want to give a medal to this bitter, resentful and hateful 91-year-old woman. Her fall from grace is on the public record and can be researched easily on the Internet. The only individual or group who would want to honor someone like Ms. Thomas would have to share some or all of her repulsive views.
Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.